In My Defense…

Steve Neidlinger, CAE

I have the pleasure of occasionally talking with people who lack the blessing of children. They look so well-rested, tan from their long weekend to Key West which is one of the many hobbies that they pursue with their unending supply of disposable income. My favorite sentence that often escapes their uncluttered mind: “When I have kids, I’m never going to…”

I have no idea how that sentence ends, because I stop listening after that. Why? Because it doesn’t matter how that sentence ends. We have no idea what we’re capable of until the waves of high-pressure parenting wash over us. Pre-kids, we talk a tough game about how we’re going to make our kids readers and how that TV will never come on. But after three hours of sleep, to which no amount of caffeine can make a dent, Daddy checks out and Peppa Pig takes over. I often borrow from my ideological credit union to purchase thirty minutes of silence.

Which brings me to my mea culpa. When my son Evan was four, a bomb went off in his mouth. OK, maybe not literally, but he checks into his pediatric dentist with eight caries. I’m not a math major, but that’s almost half his teeth.1 He’s going to have to get a steel crown and some major restorative work in exchange for a small fortune.

We immediately build a wall of defensiveness. Yes, we force him to brush his teeth twice daily. Yes, he flosses. No, this isn’t his first visit. Yes, Fred and Barney do come in gummy form. No, we don’t give him soda.2 One juice a day, then water and milk.

Our recollection was that the dentist seemed particularly judgmental, but our memories may be tainted by the fact that we just felt like bad parents. We immediately review all our life choices to that point. Should we not have been swayed by the siren song of apple juice? Why didn’t we make him brush eight times a day? Is he being led astray by the abhorrent oral health examples perpetrated by Cookie Monster?

These were questions that no one will answer because all kids are different. The dentist eventually explained that biology has a lot to do with it. Some kids just have teeth that are prone to decay regardless of their habits. We’re not bad parents, at least as far as our children’s oral health habits are concerned.3

The good news of this story is that there is a happy ending. Independence be damned, we’re brushing your teeth for you for a while, little man. We were advised to do a fluoride rinse a little earlier than the recommended age. We switched to an electric toothbrush, which has the endorsement of Captain America, since he’s on the handle.4 All of these changes managed to keep the sugar bears at bay.

So the next time a kid comes to you with Austin Powers teeth, have mercy on the moms and dads with unkempt hair, yoga pants, and a blood donor t-shirt with the applesauce stains on it from three days ago. Usually, we’re doing the best we can, and we’re all learning on the job. Let’s work together and do our best to improve our oral health habits, and then we can move on to the horrible psychological damage that repeated viewings of PAW Patrol cast upon us.

1 He cut teeth early, which unfortunately doesn’t stop him from arguing.
2 For you Yinzers, “pop.”
3 This absolution did not help, and we continued our self-flagellation for the next two years.
4 And his teeth are gorgeous.